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Coronavirus: Canadians warned not to stockpile medicine beyond 30-day supply

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Canada hasn’t seen any drug shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic yet, but pharmacists are warning that could happen if consumers insist on stockpiling.

Barry Power of the Canadian Pharmacists Association told Global News there have been reports of Canadians coming into pharmacies and demanding prescription medication orders that last months.

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“Pharmacies are reporting that people are coming in and asking for three- or six-month supply when they had just received a three-month supply in the last few weeks,” he explained. 

That’s why Canadian pharmacists are now recommending a 30-day supply of medications for patients unless it is clinically justified.

Power noted that pharmacies play a key role in managing Canada’s drug supply, which means they can’t offer large quantities to each individual without need. He noted if individuals enter pharmacies demanding larger supplies, that could lead to local shortages — which could lead to broader ones.

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“If [local shortages] happen in a lot of places then the wholesalers will start having additional demands put on their supplies, which then goes back to the manufacturers,” he said. “And so that’s how something that could be a local shortage could snowball into a larger issue.”

While there are no shortages reported in Canada due to the new coronavirus outbreak, Power said it is something they are watching. 

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“We haven’t seen an increase in shortages so far, despite all the concerns around potential disruptions from manufacturers who either source raw materials or the finished product from China,” he said.

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Power said the hope is that China’s COVID-19 outbreak will continue to improve, as it has in recent days, and supplies will not be affected in Canada.

Very few of Canada’s drugs are made domestically, said Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist, medical historian and professor emerita at Queen’s University.

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Duffin said many of the raw materials in the drug supply are made in China.

“Drugs get put together rather like cars get put together, from parts made all over the world,” she said. 

Duffin noted the current worries about COVID-19 are highlighting the need for more research into the causes of drug shortages, which she says can include everything from spikes in demand to weather disasters to international sanctions — especially in cases when key ingredients are made in a handful of locations with no backup suppliers.

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READ MORE: Why drug shortages happen and what you can do about it

According to Drug Shortages Canada, there are currently 1,963 current shortages in Canada and 56 expected shortages. 

Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers and sellers of drug ingredients warned earlier this month that logistical hurdles and labour shortages due to COVID-19 are delaying some production and shipments.

China, along with India, is a key link in the world’s pharmaceutical supply chain, particularly for generic drugs that account for the majority of prescriptions in many western countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump said this month that he does not foresee drug shortages. The European Union’s health-care regulator also said that no drug shortages or supply disruptions have been reported in the region.

— With files from Global News reporter Leslie Young, Reuters